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A CurtainUp Review

Once upon a time there was a railroad line
Don't ask where, brother, don't ask when
It was a road to Hell-No! It was hard times
It was a world of gods and men
— Hermes telling us that though it's an old song, "we're gonna sing it again."

— lyric from "Road to Hell" the opening number by our narrator Hermes and the company.
Eva Noblezada, André De Shields, Reeve Carney (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Having seen and liked Hadestown in its in-the-round setting at New York Theatre Workshop, I felt iffy about its ability to retain that production's charm and intimacy in a large Broadway house with a proscenium stage. The move uptown also had me wondering whether Anaïs Mitchell's hitching this contemporary version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth to her music made for a strong enough book to overcome the sense that this would come off more as a concert than a regular musical.

But a funny thing happened to Hadestown on the way to the Walter Kerr Theatre. It made a stop in London where it underwent some drastic changes. Mitchell and the ever adventurous and resourceful director Rachel Chavkin (remember Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812?) devised a more dynamic setting to clarify the Eurydice and Orpheus to hell and back story as well as enrich Mitchell's blues inflected almost sung through score.

I'm happy to report that all the changes accomplished something of a miracle. The book and music are the same yet it's now very much a Broadway worthy musical.

Hadestown's concert roots are not completely gone,—but so what? The songs are real ear huggers. Though it's still not your conventional Broadway musical, but again so what. Neither was The Band's Visit. Though that show, like so many new musicals coming our way was based on movies, the source movie for that, as another unlikely Broadway hit Once

For the Broadway cast Ms. Chavkin has wisely retained boom-voiced Patrick Page as Hades and the gorgeous to look at and listen to Amber Gray as his wife Persephone. She's also enlisted a fine new pair of young lovers (Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada), and a dynamite trio of Fates (Jewlle Blackmman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad).

The Broadway staging is stunning. Its scenery suggests a depression era New Orleans, which is a great fit for the jazzy, bluesy score. While the Hadestown saga plays out on a unit set, the ingenious Rachel Hauck has constructed it to accommodate tall all the action. The main playing area is encircled by three platforms that keep the lively 7-piece orchestra on stage. Perched high above the stage is a balcony that's the residence of Hades and Persephone. The floor incorporates several turntables that rotate in opposite directions is an especially effective technical device. It enables the actors to move in opposite directions and enhances choreographer David Neumann's exciting dance routines for the excellent fleet footed ensemble. There's also an elevator style drop down to take us to the hellish workplace controlled by Hades.

Since the story revolves around the young lovers with different views of life (he's a dreamer and she more practical) this show, as I noted in my 2016 review, could easily have used their names for the title. But Hadestown is indeed the ideal choice given the mood and style and the overall excellence of all the performers.

Eva Noblezada, last seen on Broadway as the lead in Miss Saigon is again a delight as Eurydice. Reeve Carney is certainly having a better time of it as Orpheus than he did in the troubled spiderman. A major new casting plus is Broadway musical veteran André De Shields as the show's jaunty narrator Hermes. In his slinky sharkskin suit (just one of costumer Michael Kass's many coups for the whole cast) this trenchantly observant master of ceremonies often dances his way right into the scenes he's introducing. It's he who tells us the opening number, "Road to Hell" that what we're about to hear is "a sad song" and that he's going to sing it anyway.

De Shield's magnetic Hermes couldn't wish for better story-telling support than he gets from the Fates (Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad), a terrific girl group-like trio — or the two actors reprising their roles from the previous productions: Patrick Page as the sinister Hades and the magnificent Amber Gray as his independent wife.

To recap the main scenario: The underworld into which the pragmatic Eurydice seeks to escape the hardscrabble life up above is a dreary one-percent dominated industrial place around which its ruler, the Trump-like Hades, has built a wall to keep out the needy people up above. Hades and Persephone are here a long married, once much in love couple whose marriage has lost its spark despite all his wealth and power, which prompts Persephone to regularly seek relief from boredom with visits up above ("Livin It Up On Top." It's clear that the passion of the young lovers, ignites Hades' interest in Eurydice when he sojourns up above to bring Persephone back. The Fates serves as a chorus for this developing subplot.

Of course, the real star of Hadestown no matter where it's set is the music presented as solos, duets, and ensemble numbers. While written well before the present administrations obsession with a border wall, "Why We Build a Wall" that concludes the first feels torn from the headlines. The lyrics throughout are also very fine, and, thanks to the small on stage band and lack of Broadway's usual excessive amplification, can be clearly understood and appreciated.

Here's hoping that Hadestown continues a trend to, at least occasionally, let a show that crosses the border that separates non-traditional from the standard fare dominating Broadway musicals.
Musical Numbers
Act One
    Road to Hell /Hermes and Company
    Any Way the Wind Blows / Eurydice and Fates
    Come Home with Me /Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes and Workers
    Wedding Song/ Orpheus, Eurydice and Workers
    Epic I/ Orpheus and Hermes
    Livin' It Up On Top /Persephone, Hermes, Orpheus and Company
    All I've Ever Known / Eurydice and Orpheus
    Way Down Hadestown / Company
    A Gathering Storm / Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice and Fates
    Epic II /Orpheus
    Chant/ Company
    Hey, Little Songbird /Hades and Eurydice
    When the Chips Are Down /Fates and Eurydice
    Gone, I'm Gone/ Eurydice and Fates
    Wait For Me /Hermes, Orpheus, Fates and Workers
    Why We Build the Wall /Hades and Company
Act Two
    Our Lady of the Underground /Persephone
    Way Down Hadestown (Reprise)/ Hermes, Fates, Eurydice and Workers
    Flowers/ Eurydice
    Come Home with Me (Reprise) /Orpheus and Eurydice
    Papers / Hades and Company
    Nothing Changes /Fates
    If It's True / Orpheus, Hermes and Workers
    How Long? /Persephone and Hades
    Chant (Reprise) /Company
    Epic III /Orpheus and Company
    Promises /Eurydice and Orpheus
    Word to the Wise / Fates
    His Kiss, The Riot / Hades
    Wait For Me (Reprise) / Hermes and Company
    Doubt Comes In /Orpheus, Eurydice, Fates and Workers
    Road to Hell (Reprise) / Hermes and Company

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Book, music, lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell
Co-conceived by Ben t. Matchstick; directed by Rachel Chavkin.
Choreographed by David Neuman;
Cast Principals: Reeve Carney(Orpheus), André De Shields(Hermes), Amber Gray(Persephone), Eva Noblezada(Eurydice), Patrick Page(Hades); Jewelle Blackmman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad (The Fates)
Set: Rachel Hauck
Costumes: Michael Krass
Lighting: Bradley King
Music orchestrated by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose
Music arranged by Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose
Vocal arrangements by Liam Robinson
Musical Director: Liam Robinson
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, 1 intermission
Walter Kerr Theatre 219 W. 48th From 3/22/19; opening 4/17/19
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/21/19 press matinee

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